Summer is here at last! It’s time to break out the grills, picnic baskets and party music. Summer picnics and barbecues can be an extremely dangerous time when it comes to foodborne illnesses. They are breeding grounds for bacteria and foodborne illness because of the way the food is prepared, packed, cooked and served.
If you want your family to be safe this summer, follow these tips to prevent foodborne illness at each stage:
- Wash hands before handling food and use clean containers and utensils. Bring towelettes just in case there is no running water at the picnic or barbecue site.
- Cooked foods need to be cooled rapidly in shallow pans. Over 67% of reported cases of foodborne illness are due to improper cooling where bacteria are allowed to grow.
- All foods with mayonnaise in them need to be kept cold
- Cut melons need to be kept cold. This one may surprise you, because they are not protein based foods. Bacteria, such as Salmonella, Shingella or E. Coli can be present on the rind. Therefore, washing melons thoroughly before cutting them and promptly refrigerating cut pieces will keep harmful bacteria from growing.
Keep cold food cold by packing it in a sturdy, insulated cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Frozen bottled water works great for ice containers in the cooler and you can use them for drinks later. Be sure to place them between packages of food. Never just set containers of food on top of ice.
Trunks can reach temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is best to transport coolers in the passenger area of the car. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade to maintain cold temperatures.
Keep hot food hot at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Take-out foods or foods cooked just before being transported to the picnic can be carried hot, but should be used within an hour.
Whether cooking indoors or outside on a grill, meat and poultry must be cooked thoroughly to ensure that harmful bacteria are destroyed. Grill raw poultry until the juices run clear and there is no pink in the center. It’s always best to use a thermometer and make sure it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep cold foods cold during serving the meal. Do not let cold foods sit out for more than one hour. Any leftovers should be put back in the cooler right after they are served. The longer foods are held at unsafe temperatures, the more likely that bacteria can grow and cause foodborne illness.
Keep hot foods hot while serving the meal. Cooked foods are just as dangerous as raw foods, so once grilled foods are cooked don’t let them sit out for more than one hour.
Last but not least, keep foods covered to prevent contamination by insects. Many insects can carry harmful bacteria and viruses on their bodies.